You can’t forget the “Imagine” video, no matter how hard you try. Organized by Gal Gadot back in March 2020, it was a sincere attempt to “boost morale” amidst the first terrifying wave of the pandemic. Instead of inspiring people, it was mocked as an instantly embarrassing, tone deaf montage of celebrities hanging out in luxurious backyards and kitchens. It was the closest thing to a modern “We Are The World,” but with no charitable element and far more selfie filters.
Now, every time there is a new inspirational celebrity musical collaboration, this is what I think about and compare it to, for better or worse. Is it more or less cringy than the “Imagine” video? Are participants singing slightly more in tune? And do the celebs do anything oblivious to undermine their message? On all three of these counts, I’m happy to report that NYCNext‘s new tribute to the Big Apple, a local celebrity-sung cover of “New York State Of Mind,” passes the “Imagine” test. Additionally, it is far less embarrassing than Chuck Schumer rapping.
The video includes an eclectic group of Broadway stars, late night hosts, and only-in-NYC personalities and musicians including Stephen Colbert, Idina Menzel, Andy Cohen, Ben Stiller, LaChanze, Sara Bareilles, Peppermint, Suzanne Vega, Brian Stokes Mitchell, The Klezmatics, Mario Cantone and more. As the Times reported, they all volunteered their voices, and most chose a location in the city that held special meaning for them (like with Vega at Tom’s Restaurant).
Although Billy Joel gave his blessing to cover his song, he did not take part in the video, however, his daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, does show up at one point.
NYCNext, which has produced some live popup events around the city since the winter, says that its ultimate goal is to “help the city we love recover and rebuild, and to energize and inspire others to act by creating moments of joy.” As for this specific video, their first major project, they said they wanted to “encourage the city’s recovery from the pandemic and drive civic engagement,” and essentially combat the negative narratives about the “demise” of the city.
“Our goal with this project is to create a collective movement of New York City pride,” said Maryam Banikarim, co-founder of NYCNext, in a statement. “We want to celebrate our artists as well as the city we love and inspire everyone to step in and support NYC in whichever way works for them.”
As I am a robot who sheds oil instead of tears, I must confess that this video did not move me personally, but it is meaningful that locals I have spoken to have been sincerely touched by the video and its uplifting, sweeping view of the city, proving that NYCNext’s positivity is one New Yorkers are craving. One coworker told me they teared up watching it, while another declared, “if you completely hate this, you hate NYC, probably.”